Whether you want to spend a year teaching English to children in Thailand, six weeks working in a museum in London or three months aiding rainforest conservation in Brazil, volunteering can do wonders – for your CV and for the organisations and people involved.
Voluntary work means giving time to a charity or other good cause, either by funding yourself, or with a nominal stipend to cover your costs. With around 170,000 registered charities in England and Wales and thousands of overseas opportunities, the choice of projects to get involved in is huge.
What will I be doing?
UK-based voluntary work could include helping out in charity shops or assisting the disabled or homeless, while community and conservation projects are often the main feature of work projects abroad. Potential benefits of voluntary work include the opportunity to explore different career paths and work with people from different backgrounds, and the chance to develop transferable skills and competencies such as communication, teamwork and initiative.
If you want to develop a career in the charity sector, you need to remain open-minded and be prepared to move laterally to get the position you want. Keep notes about your experiences, as they will give you examples to draw on in your job interviews.
Tips for applying
If you're looking for voluntary work locally, try approaching a council for voluntary service (CVS) or volunteer centre: look them up in the phone book or online. Or you could apply online at Do-it or TimeBank or explore organisations such as Volunteering Matters, which offers a range of volunteering opportunities.
For work abroad the most important thing is to do your research – forums can be helpful as they provide an opportunity to hear about other people's experiences. Your careers service will also be able to help. The skills you need will depend on the work you choose to do. However the main skills and qualities sought are commitment, flexibility, enthusiasm and a sense of humour.